Long-Term Cumberland Sewer Deal Would Violate State Laws

Hurried deal in New Jersey would undermine public control


Clean Water

A national clean water advocacy organization sent a letter to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners today warning them that their efforts to monetize the county sewer system appears on its face to violate several state laws.

The letter, sent by Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan on August 12, outlines several deficiencies with the county’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Specifically, the letter cautions that any long-term financing plan for the utility would have to allow for public bidding unless it was for less than ten years and received approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Longer contracts would also require the utility to follow the legal requirements of providing public notice of a contract, public meetings, and the solicitation of additional proposals. The law requires the passing of a resolution approving a contract, as well as a review by the state’s Division of Local Government Services (DLGS)

The county issued a revised RFQ in June, but the same legal problems are evident.

Once the county’s plan came to light, local residents voiced strong opposition to what many see as nothing more than a rapid bid to privatize a public asset. 

“This rushed process is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to residents who are alarmed by this speedy privatization scheme.”

The Food & Water Watch letter notes in closing that “the Revised RFQ skirts statutory requirements applicable to the private financing of wastewater services. CCUA should not rush to approve an unlawful contract, and it should instead follow the procedures set forth under state law to ensure meaningful community input and public involvement.”